When Evil is Confused for Smart

He was evil, sure, but he was smart; you can’t deny that.

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Charles Keating, Dick Cheney, Ken Lay, you name the guy. All smart guys.hitler-study-map-65per.gif

As Pat Buchanan once observed, Hitler was a bad guy, but he sure had moxie.

Enron—The Smartest Guys in the Room, so the film title goes.

Al Capone was smart because he seized power and got rich by killing the right people and paying the right graft and instilling the proper fear. That guy may not have known much, maybe he didn’t finish school, but boy, he had street smarts.

I keep hearing how people who exploit other people or scam the system or usurp power and tell a big lie to sway large numbers of gullible people are smart. I still hear this every day. Hell, even I say it myself once in awhile.

Nowhere in this practical, survivalist, jungle-law conception of smartness does the notion of wisdom intercede. Were Einstein, Schweitzer, Gandhi or Cesar Chavez not smart for eschewing personal wealth and expending a lot of their energy to make the world better?

einstein-2-75perc.jpgTo me, a smart man is not merely so because of a facility to scheme and hoard. Moxie, cojones or a proficiency for reptilian power maneuvering do not mark a smart man. Wisdom does. A truly smart man is reflective. He sees the world as troubled, looks at the historical and social causes of those troubles and sets out—even at the cost of personal sacrifice—to correct them. To do otherwise consigns the world to the perpetuation of injustice, ignorance, hunger, inequality. Making the world better for all is the smart thing to do. Does a truly smart man want anything less than a cleaner, safer, more tolerant world for his grandchildren to live in?

The smart man (or smart person, to be inclusive) leaves the world better than he found it; not one who builds a a self-accumulated mountain of gold treasure and leaves in his wake a trail of tears, or scarred or poisoned Earth.zordon.jpg

A smart man knows that perpetuating a system that rewards greediness, pettiness, selfishness and ignorance is stupid, and ultimately suicidal.

Do I in my complacency, apathy, conformity and feeling of powerlessness and tendency toward self preservation exhibit the amount of smartness that I should?

No.

Am I a hypocrite?

Yes, but—and there is a but—there is a kernel of wisdom in my self awareness. The possibility of hope and change in my own self-criticism.

It’s something that a lot of so-called smart men never realize.

In the postmodern neocon world, ’60-style idealism that demands change, progress, social justice, et. al., is called naive. The really smart guys, they say, realize that humanity is scum and thus are smart enough to claw and scratch their way to their own material security.

I don’t call that smart. I call it giving up. I call it an insult to the intelligence and potential of the human race.

This is all nothing that wiser people have not said before—nothing better than what the best of the Greek, Roman, Native American, Chinese, German, French and other philosophers have said.

I just felt the need to say it.

-Evan

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